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Hello, everyone! Happy August. I can’t believe we’ve been in quarantine for almost four months (maybe even longer for some of you). I’ve been keeping busy with a LOT of reading (25 books and counting since April), writing, playing with my pet cockatiel, and of course, discovering a wealth of new music. For today’s post, I’m excited to collaborate with a few of my friends who are just as crazy about music as I am. Here are their reviews/thoughts on some of the new music out there!
1. George Clanton & Nick Hexum – Self-titled
Released July 24th, 2020
Review by Dominic (@sixtysecondrecords)
“George Clanton, Los Angeles-based artist and owner of the 100% Electronica label, joins forces with Nick Hexum of 311 to create a woozy, punchy and forward soundtrack to a lost summer, left to sit in the hot July sun.
Clanton, a pioneer of the vaporwave genre, has refined his version of vaporwave to appeal to a broader audience of pop-centric fans. Known for his experience producing vaporwave music, Clanton embraces his old sound and introduces it to pop-punk; a music baby we didn’t know we needed. Rather than focus on the sweeping, slow melodies and repetitive nature of vaporwave, the music is focused on the lyrics and percussion. A personal admiration for 311 inspired Clanton to create the self-titled album.
The clash between pop, punk and vaporwave is a showcase to behold. This is the sound of summer. It is a staggeringly new sound, one I haven’t heard from any album before. The first track ‘Aurora Summer’ sets the tone for the rest of the album: luscious, wavy synths paired with in-your-face guitar licks and a heavy presence of percussion also found on ‘Topanga State of Mind.’ ‘King for a Day’ introduces the classic Clanton-sound, borrowing samples from previous work to break up repetition. The album art is interesting, to say the least. In previous releases, Clanton and Hexum have been depicted as dogs, relaxing by the beach and having a smoke. Along with the art, this entire release has been something new for both artists. A truly refreshing summer release.” – Dominic
FOR FANS OF: Washed Out, Dan Mason, Surfing
2. The Chicks – Gaslighter
Released July 17th, 2020
“The Chicks, formally known as The Dixie Chicks, was a prominent country girl band in the ’90s-2000’s. They took a writing hiatus after their 2006 album Taking the Long Way, and have come back with their new release, Gaslighter, with quite a bang. The album, based mostly on the recent divorce of the lead singer, touches on themes of pain, betrayal, recovery, and willpower. The title song, initially released as a single, would be the first song I’d recommend listening to. Not only is it really freaking catchy, but it does a great job of summing up the message of the album: don’t let the literal man get you down. I don’t believe there is one song on the album I dislike, and that is a very rare occurrence for me!
Now, I know what you all are thinking: country music…really? Suspend your disbelief for just a moment to listen to this album. It’s a very poppy type of country that will leave you singing into your hairbrush and dancing like nobody’s watching. I would equate it to a grown woman’s version of Taylor Swift’s early work, with more soul and pain that anyone 16 and older can relate to. Also, if you are a harmony lover, you will be obsessed with the three-part harmonies by Natalie and her fellow Chicks!
My top three songs for the album are ‘Texas Man’, ‘For Her,’ and ‘Julianna Calm Down,’ but these top songs change every day. Listen to these three, along with the title song, and don’t fight the urge to listen to the rest!” -Natalie
FOR FANS OF: Stevie Nicks, Little Big Town, Kacey Musgraves
3. Taylor Swift – folklore
Released July 24th, 2020
Review by M. Street
“At a high level, Swift’s latest effort in folklore can be described as many things. A mature and subtle departure from high-flying pop, and ‘critics’ darling’ of subdued mystical narratives, or an introspective and brooding record reflective of the broader societal experience of a global pandemic. In my estimation, Swift dives into unfamiliar (yet somehow familiar) territory. She cooly demonstrates her unparalleled lyrical and hook-writing ability, albeit on top of at-times boring, drony and uninspired songwriting.
Throughout the album, Swift delivers a handful of sparkly gems that benefit immensely from the contrast they provide against the airy motif present throughout the collection. On first listen, ‘Invisible String’ made me sit up and lean toward the speakers as the boppy, fingerpicked guitar intro seemed to wake the record up from its brooding meander like some sort of acoustic alarm clock. A classic autobiographical Swift tune, ‘Strings’ takes the listener on a subtle yet effective tour of top-drawer playful lyricism and hook-writing. Sung in a much more recognizable register for Swift, cascading melisma and breathy pronunciation can make one think that the album is taking a turn for the brighter. The reflection on ‘love as fate’ takes a couple of notable dives into the recurring lower vocal timbre evident throughout folklore, tying ‘Strings’ perfectly into the broader work while still providing a shimmering and whimsy masterpiece that belongs in the Swifitian pantheon alongside the likes of ‘You Belong With Me’.
Swift also sprinkles her lyrical and hook-writing class in at times unexpected corners of the record. ‘Mirrorball’ stands out as a beachy foray into layered harmony with a refrain of ‘Hush!’ that can’t help but make the listener raise their shoulders and shiver. ‘August’ delivers a similar vibe and a candidate for the earwormiest of choruses on the record, but loses a bit of steam as the singer’s focus pivots strangely from a cutesy picnic in a meadow to clandestine meetings behind a Nordstrom. This review would be remiss to not mention ‘Betty’, the record’s only venture into the patented high school setting that Swift has revisited and refreshed countless times since her debut record, this time with a Dylan-esque harp.
For me, folklore leaves a bit to be desired and suffers slightly from some clunkers that might have been better off on a 25th Anniversary bonus disc (‘Seven’, ‘Epiphany’, ‘Hoax’). At the same time, though, the record doesn’t let you forget just how masterful Taylor Swift is as an artist. In her own magical way, folklore delivers delight around every corner for those who love Taylor Swift. Pop signatures that she’s trademarked for herself over the years creep up on nearly every song, providing ephemeral moments of enjoyment.
A sombre, brooding album that drones on at times, Swift’s class across the board of composition and production shines through to (mostly) save the album from itself.” -M. Street
FOR FANS OF: Camila Cabello, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles
4. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers
Released July 10th, 2020
Review by Hayden (@HaydenTharp)
“Although it doesn’t pack the same punch as their debut record, The Beth’s sophomore album, Jump Rope Gazers, is an excellent follow-up. With themes of lovesickness and the yearning to be close to someone, Elizabeth Stokes, lead singer, continues her stellar and sweet songwriting — which feeds easily into the situation a lot of us find ourselves in 2020.
We see the band a bit more stripped back on this record, with songs like, ‘Jump Rope Gazers’ and ‘You Are a Beam of Light’ featuring soft guitar melodies and limited percussion. These tracks help highlight Stokes’ soft voice and impassioned lyrics. On the song, ‘You Are a Beam of Light,’ easily The Beth’s most mellow song in their discography, Stokes’ sings, ‘Open my eyes so I can see brighter — And you are a beam of light –Maybe that’s why your battery runs dry,’ as she deals with watching someone she thinks so highly of burn out from being so bright. This is a moment we really didn’t get with their last album, and it shows the band’s growth and willingness to attempt a new sound as they advance in their careers.
Personally, I am a fan of their more upbeat songs on their debut album, but Stokes’ lyricism is enough to keep me invested in the new, laid back sound that shows up on a lot on this album. It’s clear that she has a knack for creating a storyline for each of her songs, which helps to create a connection and visualize her intentions. I truly think Stokes’ is one of the best songwriters in the indie scene right now. Some of the standout tracks for me are, ‘Dying to Believe,’ ‘Don’t Go Away,’ ‘Mars, the God of War,’ and ‘You Are a Beam of Light.’ The whole album flows nicely at a clear and concise 10 songs and 39 minutes.” -Hayden
FOR FANS OF: Phoebe Bridgers, Courtney Barnett, Soccer Mommy
5. The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form
Released on May 22nd, 2020
Review by Flora (@Flora on YouTube)
“The 1975’s songs are for nighttime car rides with friends, but also screaming at the top of your lungs. I am reviewing their most recent album, Notes On A Conditional Form.
N.O.A.C.F is the band’s fourth studio album. Featuring a whopping 22 tracks, its total duration is 80 minutes and 30 seconds exactly, making it their longest album yet. It starts with a powerful opening track, ‘The 1975,’ which has been a tradition for the band to recreate on every album with their new aesthetic in mind. In this album’s version, you are greeted by the voice of Greta Thunberg describing the current climate crisis with the band in the background. This is a clear political statement, setting the overall mood for the album. As soon as that first song is finished, you are swept into ‘People,’ a punk, screamo anthem that tells it like it is.
Personally, I wasn’t very keen on the album’s new sound when I first heard it, but the more you listen, the more you just kinda get used to it. This is also their first album to feature other vocalists, such as F.K.A Twiggs, and even Matty Healy’s dad, Tim Healy. Matty and the rest of the band clearly aimed to convey personal stories with this album, sharing memories and truths about everything that has happened in their lives so far. It especially focuses on Matty’s past addiction to heroine. This is prevalent in ‘Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied,’ in which he calls himself out on his own lies. The visuals for the music videos of this album tell a story in themselves, centered around themes of a ‘digital detox’ that comments on stepping away from social media’s negative effects.
The final track, ‘Guys,’ brings the album to an emotional close. In this song, Matty expresses his love for his bandmates that he’s known since he was 13, stating that they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to him. (Ouch.) You can’t help but sob as you think of everything they have been through together, which inevitably makes you think of all the times you’ve been in a rough place and listened to their songs, layering your own memories on top of theirs. With the world in shambles, this album came at a good time to give a socially-distanced, dancy hug. In my opinion, it isn’t their best album, especially comparing it to A Brief Inquiry etc, but in the end, it’s authentically The 1975, and you can’t help but appreciate the raw truth it brings during these chaotic times.” – Flora
FOR FANS OF: Catfish & The Bottlemen, Tame Impala, Pale Waves
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Thanks so much to all my friends who contributed to this post 🙂